- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

PARIS, Jan. 22 (UPI) — France and Germany kicked off two days of pomp Wednesday commemorating a Franco-German reconciliation treaty aimed to end centuries of antagonism between the two countries.

The wining, dining and speechmaking, which began in Paris Wednesday morning and ends in Berlin Thursday, celebrates the Elysee Treaty, signed in 1963 between former French leader Charles de Gaulle and then-West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

Current French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have announced a series of new measures — from appointing special diplomatic counselors, to staging annual French-German days — to bring the two countries even closer.

"We are talking about a community of destiny that's been forged over the years," Chirac said at a news conference with Schroeder at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris. "…The French-Germany community of destiny must serve as a training force for Europe. That's how we conceive it."

Among the scheduled line-up was a joint French-German ministerial meeting Wednesday morning in Paris, and an unprecedented session between French and German parliamentarians at the Versailles Palace Wednesday afternoon.

It was at Versailles in 1871, when the former Prussia announced a vast German empire stretching across a defeated France. Germany and allied nations

also gathered at the palace in 1919, to sign the famous Versailles Treaty, signaling the end of World War I. Today, however, French and German leaders have regular meetings to bridge sometimes sizeable differences on a variety of economic and political matters.

Last week, for example, Chirac and Schroeder announced a joint proposal for two presidents to head a future and expanded European Union. And Wednesday, they said they shared a common perspective on the Iraqi crisis.

Indeed, Schroeder said the Franco-German friendship treaty has been helpful in what he called "these difficult times."

A series of polls taken in recent weeks also show French and Germans look favorably on one another.

An Ipsos survey published Wednesday by Le Figaro newspaper, for example, found more than half of those polled in France and Germany consider the two

countries should have privileged ties — bonds even closer than with Britain.

Already, thousands of academic agreements, town and city partnerships, and other joint programs, have been inked between the two countries over the past 40 years. The two are also top trading partners.

But some critics suggest many other cooperative agreements remain largely symbolic — and warn new declarations may be so as well.

Others — including former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl — suggest France and Germany may soon lose their status as the continent's "motor," in a future and expanded European Union.

"In a larger Europe, France and Germany will be unable to regain the kind of automatic power leadership they had in the past," Vedrine said in an interview with Le Figaro published Wednesday. "France and Germany must therefore search for coalitions of circumstance, which will be unstable, constraining and uncertain."

Few of these worries surfaced during Wednesday's festivities, however.

At the French Foreign Ministry, Chirac and Schroeder lunched on coquilles Saint-Jacques and chocolate cake, and sipped French and German wines.

At Versailles, French and German parliamentarians sampled duck thighs and a vegetable mille-feuilles, among other delicacies.

Germany's popular Bild newspaper has complained at the expense of sending 600 German deputies to Paris for the day. But officials have countered the price-tag was modest, and that the lawmakers traveled aboard military planes.

"I'll guarantee you not a penny will be wasted," France's National Assembly leader, Jean-Louis Debre, told the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung.

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